- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

The linescore will show the Washington Nationals lost last night’s game to the Baltimore Orioles when reliever Winston Abreu surrendered two runs in the 11th. The Nationals tried to mount a last-ditch rally in the bottom of the inning but managed only one run off Baltimore closer Chris Ray and wound up suffering a 3-2 loss at RFK Stadium.

Rewind, though, to the top of the eighth, because that’s when this game really was lost.

With Washington clinging to a 1-0 lead and trying to make a winner out of Mike Bacsik in the left-hander’s first major league start in three years, setup man Jon Rauch failed to do his job. Called upon by manager Manny Acta for a rare, two-inning appearance, Rauch allowed the tying run to score and ultimately allowed this game to be lost in extra innings.

“It’s a huge momentum shift when you give up that run and the other team’s in the ballgame,” the reliever said. “I wish everybody could just point the finger at me, and I wish I could take this one.”

Rauch, of course, wasn’t credited with the loss, only a blown save he would prefer to have back. Plenty among the crowd of 30,661 — largest at RFK since Opening Day — probably felt the same frustration as the Nationals dropped their second straight to their interleague rivals.

Washington’s relief corps wasn’t entirely to blame for this one. The lineup managed all of six hits off five Orioles pitchers, and three of those came in the second inning, when Nook Logan doubled to right for his first RBI of the season.

That’s all the Nationals managed for most of the night. Shut down by Baltimore pitcher Jeremy Guthrie (who struck out 10 over seven innings), they didn’t score again until a too-late, two-out rally in the 11th off Ray. Tony Batista’s RBI single to left cut a 3-1 deficit into a one-run ballgame, but Brian Schneider grounded out to end the game and sent what was left of the large crowd home.

“It’s just very tough to win 1-0,” manager Manny Acta said. “I mean, you’ve got to be perfect on both sides. We just couldn’t get that hit again. We had a couple chances where we could have won the ballgame, but that hit just never came.”

So it was up to the Washington pitching staff to pitch near-perfect baseball, which nearly was the case. Bacsik, called up from Class AAA Columbus earlier in the day to make his first major league start since 2004 with the Texas Rangers, did everything his manager could have asked for, tossing six shutout innings to put himself in position for the win.

“It was good,” said Bacsik, the eighth starting pitcher used by Washington this season. “I don’t know what else to say except I’m just grateful for the opportunity and I’m going to try to take advantage of the opportunity.”

With three relievers-turned-starters (Bacsik, Micah Bowie and Levale Speinger) pitching the next three days, Acta had to make sure his bullpen was well-rested and prepared for extra duty.

So even with Bacsik’s six-inning gem last night, Acta still didn’t want to burn up too many relievers. That meant Rauch was asked to make a rare, two-inning appearance.

The right-hander, typically an eighth-inning setup man, cruised through the seventh but opened the eighth by walking Brian Roberts and then surrendered a line-drive single to Nick Markakis. Miguel Tejada flied out, but the key moment came after that when Roberts and Markakis attempted a double steal.

Roberts got a huge jump, so catcher Brian Schneider decided to throw to second to get the trailing runner. It didn’t work, and the Orioles had runners on second and third with one out. When pinch-hitter Aubrey Huff lofted a fly ball to center field, Roberts scored without a throw to tie the game.

“I’m better than I showed tonight,” said Rauch, who hadn’t been scored upon in his last 101/3 innings. “I kept making mistakes up in the zone to good hitters, and you can’t do that.”

Rauch was kicking himself for issuing the leadoff walk in the eighth, and Abreu likely was doing the same after he walked Ramon Hernandez to open the decisive 11th.

“Lead-off walks will kill you,” Acta said. “A leadoff walk tied the game. A leadoff walk won the game.”

That it did. After Huff flied out, pinch-runner Freddie Bynum stole second, then moved to third on Melvin Mora’s line-drive single over shortstop Cristian Guzman’s head.

Jay Payton then delivered the winning blow, a double down the line that wound up scoring both runs when left fielder Robert Fick slipped and fell in the corner.

With that, the Nationals were left to contemplate a well-played ballgame gone awry. They got a standout pitching performance from an unlikely source, put their usually reliable bullpen in position to close things out, yet somehow wound up on the wrong end by night’s end.

“We had our plan,” Acta said. “Unfortunately, it just didn’t work.”

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